LIVE: Castro is 2-for-2, one hit shy of 200

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LIVE: Castro is 2-for-2, one hit shy of 200

Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011
Posted: 10:26 a.m.

Associated Press

Some solid play over the last nine days has helped the Milwaukee Brewers inch closer to their first division title since 1982.

The Brewers look to conclude their final road trip of the season with a second straight win over the rival Cubs on Wednesday.

After its three-game winning streak was snapped with a 5-2 loss in Monday's series opener, Milwaukee (91-64) scored four times in the third inning Tuesday en route to a 5-1 victory. The Brewers, who have won six of eight since a five-game skid, dropped their magic number for winning the NL Central to three. Since Wednesday is their final road game, they will clinch their first division title since 1982 at home barring a collapse.

"I think everybody is excited," said Shaun Marcum, who pitched eight solid innings Tuesday to earn the win. "We're not looking ahead to see when everything can happen. Just looking to go out (Wednesday) and try to get another win."

Rickie Weeks drove in two runs as Milwaukee reached 91 wins for the first time since 1992, when the club went 92-70 but missed the postseason. Corey Hart, who added an RBI on Tuesday, is 9 for 19 with five RBIs in his last five games versus Chicago.

The Brewers hope Randy Wolf (13-9, 3.45 ERA) can continue his recent success both overall and against the Cubs (68-87). The left-hander matched his win total from last season when he allowed three runs and struck out seven in seven innings of a 6-3 victory at Cincinnati on Friday, improving to 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts.

Wolf has allowed just three runs over 19 2-3 innings while going 1-1 in three outings versus the Cubs this season. He gave up six hits and fanned seven over seven scoreless innings of a 1-0 loss at Wrigley Field on June 13.

He might not have to face Chicago third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is day to day after leaving Tuesday's contest with a mild strain in his right quad.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, 5 for 15 with a home run against Wolf, homered Tuesday and is three hits shy of 200. The All-Star has reached base in 33 straight games, the longest such streak by a Cubs shortstop since Woody English in 1929. Castro's 336 career hits surpassed Glenn Beckert's franchise record for a player since 1900 in his first two seasons.

Scheduled Chicago starter Matt Garza (8-10, 3.51) has allowed 10 runs in 11 2-3 innings while splitting his two starts versus Milwaukee this year. The right-hander gave up five runs and two homers in six innings of a 12-7 victory over the Brewers at Wrigley Field on June 16.

Garza has pitched better recently, going 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in four starts since losing to Atlanta on Aug. 25. He allowed three runs on a pair of Carlos Lee homers - including a two-run shot to tie the game in the ninth - and threw a career-high 124 pitches Friday in the Cubs' 4-3, 12-inning win over Houston.

"I want to finish strong, finish healthy and finish on a good note," Garza told the Cubs' official website.

Milwaukee sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are a combined 6 for 11 with four doubles off Garza.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

In the span of just over a week, Ian Happ has gone from arguably the Cubs' biggest trade piece to the 2017 savior.

OK, "savior" is extreme, but Happ has been an unlikely stabilizing force for the defending world champions.

In a week's worth of big-league action (seven games), Happ has smacked six extra base-hits, scored seven runs and posted a 1.182 OPS. But his impact has been so much more than just the numbers on the back of his Topps card.

Happ's presence has helped the Cubs reinvent themselves.

The plan heading into the 2017 season was to have Kyle Schwarber lead off and Ben Zobrist reprise his 2016 role as lineup protection for Anthony Rizzo.

But with Schwarber struggling atop the order, Happ's presence has freed up the ever-patient Zobrist to become the team's new leadoff as the week-old rookie is now protecting a perennial MVP candidate in Rizzo.

"It's all based on Ian Happ," Joe Maddon said. "I'm still very aware of protecting Rizzo. And that's where Zobrist came in handy. Now to this point, I'm looking at last month's numbers, Zo's really ascending and Schwarbs has come back a little bit regarding just getting on base.

"So Zo's the most likely candidate among all the groups to try to get on base more often and Rizzo's still protected with Ian. Just moving everybody down one slot with Ian there taking the role of Zobrist, I kinda wanted to give it a try."

It's only one game, but the refurbished lineup scored 13 runs Sunday, collecting 10 extra-base hits and scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Happ was right there in the middle of it all, smoking a 108 mph double off the right field wall in the first inning and doubling again later in the game. 

Zobrist homered. Rizzo homered. Bryant — who said hitting third is where he's most comfortable in the lineup — crushed a pair of homers and reached base five times. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

With Happ's presence bumping Schwarber down in the order, Maddon also has moved back to hitting the pitcher last.

"In my mind's eye, I'm more able or wanting to hit the pitcher ninth again because Schwarber is moved back," Maddon said. "Part of the method was to try to feed Schwarber with a nine-hole hitter."

With Happ in the lineup, the Cubs are averaging 6.3 runs per game. 

Again, it's a small sample size and the Cubs were due for an offensive explosion after a slow start to the season, but Happ has been a central figure.

"Nothing surprises me [with him]," Bryant said. "We all saw what he can do in spring. It's not surprising at all. He's definitely provided a spark for us since he's been up.

"He's just been great out there, moving all over the field. I don't even know what his main position is, but if it's center field, he's out there doing a good job, too."

Willson Contreras helped provide the 2016 Cubs with a jolt of energy when he made his debut in mid-June. Happ is doing the same thing this season, though his arrival has come a month earlier in the 2017 campaign.

Happ has only played one full season of professional baseball and appeared in just 91 games above A-ball before making his big-league debut.

But he's looked like he belongs from the outset, blending into a clubhouse that has welcomed so many young position players over the last few years.

Maddon's message to Happ upon arriving was simple: Why don't you stay a while?

It's not as catchy as "try not to suck," but it has helped Happ relax.

"Sometimes, we underestimate the impact we have on anybody," Maddon said. "In my situation, as a manager to the player, so you say something like that just trying to get somebody to relax and who knows?

"Like Javy with 'try not to suck' a couple years ago, who knows how it's processed and how it permits the player to process the day? I knew how good [Happ] was in spring training, I knew how good he's been this season and I just know how he is.

"So there was no reason for him not to approach it like, 'I want to stay a while.'"

Happ spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman, but with Baez and Zobrist around, Maddon doesn't see a way to work the rookie in the infield at this time.

But then again, two weeks ago, nobody could fathom how the Cubs could possibly work another position player into the lineup on a consistent basis, but that's worked itself out. Right now, it's Albert Almora Jr. being relegated to the bench as Happ has taken over in center field.

Of course, there's still more than four months left in the season and things will undoubtedly change again. 

But for now, Happ has forced the issue and altered the entire identity of the 2017 Cubs.